The Brief New Normal of a Reopened Houston Strip Club
Club Onyx fought the law to open its doors again — but what patrons found inside wasn’t your average strip club
For Nneka “DJ Nneka” Ndukwe, the air outside Club Onyx smelled like freedom. The 36-year-old has spent the past two years spinning at the Houston strip club, making close to $3,000 most weekends — but after Texas’ social-distancing restrictions went into effect on March 20, her night job dried up like the rest of the restaurant and nightlife industry.
So, at midnight on May 1, the first day of Governor Greg Abbott’s phased reopening plan, Ndukwe was lined up like everybody else, waiting to get inside. “You can’t live off of unemployment forever,” she says.
But Club Onyx wasn’t reopening as a strip club — it was opening as a restaurant that just so happened to include a little flesh on display. Strip clubs weren’t included in the state’s phase one, but restaurants were, so Onyx CEO Eric Langan was trying to fit a good time through a loophole.
Not everyone agreed on the move’s legitimacy. Fifteen minutes after Club Onyx’s midnight reopening, Houston Police Department and Fire Marshal sirens sounded, and officers descended on the 16-year-old establishment. Langan stood outside, arguing with HPD; because the club’s health permits categorize Onyx as a “full-service restaurant,” he maintained, he had every right to reopen.
The large sections that celebrities and NBA athletes turned into mini-parties with dozens of their friends and dancers? Gone. The streams of dollar bills sliding into thongs? Gone. The stages? Roped off with barricades three feet out.
Ultimately, at 1:55 a.m. — after more than 90 minutes of waiting — those waiting outside were allowed to enter the club. If Ndukwe had any doubt about Onyx’s prospects in a socially distancing era, they disappeared the moment she stepped inside the space. “Going to the strip club is sort of…